first meeting of the Coral
Reef Initiative Task Force
wrapped up Tuesday, October 20, in Biscayne National Park, Fla.,
with a comprehensive set of programs and new partnerships formed
to address problems facing our nation's coral reef systems.
"The meeting of the Task
Force marks a turning point in ocean conservation and in how
we respond to this critical threat of coral reefs in decline,"
said Commerce Department Deputy Secretary Robert Mallett. "We
have formed powerful new partnerships that bring together scientists,
public interest groups and political leaders from throughout
the U.S. island territories, states and ocean agencies in charge
of maintaining our coral reefs. We are discovering how many assets
we have when we work together."
The Task Force was co-chaired
by Mallett and Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt
and included representatives from 11 federal agencies as well
as those from Florida, Hawaii, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands,
Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas Islands.
"It's clear from this meeting
that coral reef problems are many and complex. But we leave here
with a road map for progress," Secretary of the Interior
Bruce Babbitt said. "I'm asking all of us to roll up our
sleeves, step to the edge of what's possible and then push on
According to scientific testimony
at the meeting, up to two-thirds of the world's global reefs
are currently in decline or threatened. The importance of coral
reefs as a multi-billion dollar economic engine for tourism;
as a spawning round for commercial fish species; and as a source
of new life-saving medicines makes it vital that we address this
decline in coral reef health immediately, according to Mallett.
The Task Force identified issues
of major concern, including: overfishing of reefs; declines in
water quality from urban and agricultural runoff and deforestation;
lack of coordination with scientific research; and improving
methods to restore damaged reef areas. The Task Force agreed
to form working groups to form specific strategies to deal with
these issues on a large scale. The specific strategies will be
reviewed at the Task Force's next meeting in the spring of 1999
and ready for implementation shortly thereafter.
The strategies will add to major
programs announced Monday that will increase mapping of the coral
reef tracts throughout the U.S. mainland and islands; specific
efforts to improve water quality and reef monitoring; and grant
funding for local conservation efforts.
The emphasis of the strategies
and programs developed by the Task Force will focus on developing
guidelines for sustainable use to ensure that the reefs remain
economically and ecologically healthy. Central to all strategies
is the inclusion of the U.S. Territory and Island states as they
contain the vast majority of the nation's coral reef tracts,
and have economies that are largely dependent upon ocean-based